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United States Signals New Policy Focus on East Asia
by Dr. Subhash Kapila Bookmark and Share
The new United States Administration seems to have signaled a new policy focus on East Asia by earmarking the first foreign tour of US Secretary of State to cover Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and China. Traditionally, such first visits by an incoming US Secretary of State were focused on Europe and the Middle East. The United States may have intended to get the global media and strategic community to read this as a policy change in American focus and hype it as such but on deeper analysis it emerges that the real change in American focus has been on China. China seems to be emerging as the prime focus of the new United States foreign policy. Japan, South Korea and Indonesia were just mere add-ons to Secretary Clinton's itinerary to East Asia as none of them offer any potential for dramatic diplomatic initiatives by the new US Administration.

Japan and South Korea are the United States traditional military allies of long standing and having bilateral security pacts with USA. Indonesia is of late being specially cultivated by the United States into a more proximate relationship with security underpinnings. Thus all these three countries visited first by the US Secretary of State were predictable entities politically and can be said to be taken as granted by the United States.

China's relations with the United States, irrespective of Republican or Democratic Administrations has always oscillated from hot to cold. Whatever labels the Americans may use to describe China, the fact remains that both United States and China figure in each others threat perceptions and the military planning of both the United States and China are predicated on this strategic reality.

If that be so, then what compulsions have prompted the new US Administration to make the first US foreign policy pilgrimage to China? The American compulsions for the present molly-coddling of China are primarily economic and strategic.

China economically can be said to be enjoying significant financial leverages on USA with holding US debts in trillions of US Dollars. In the present context when the US economy is in a serious downslide and when US officials are accusing China of currency manipulation, a cooperative and helpful China becomes an important factor in US financial and economic strategies.

Strategically, the new US Administration perceives that China may be of use in assisting the United States in the strategic challenges that it is facing in Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. My emphasis here is on the word 'perceives' as time only will tell that China would assist the United States in pulling its chestnuts out of the fire.

On Iran, one would like to maintain that it is Russia which enjoys more significant leverages there than China and the United States should have logically turned to Russia for help. The fact that the United States did not do so is indicative of the fact that the new US Administration has not yet firmed up its policy priority towards Russia.

Coming to Afghanistan and Pakistan, in the present context they get hyphenated as one by the United States which continues mistakenly to believe that the Afghanistan problem cannot be sorted out without relying on Pakistan. China has a strategic nexus with Pakistan and Pakistan without consistent Chinese support becomes a strategic non-entity. China in the past had excellent relations with the Taliban ruled Afghanistan and can be said to continue to do so with the Afghan Taliban hierarchy ensconced in Quetta in Pakistan. Therefore on both these counts the United States perceives it could persuade China to prevail over its prot'g's in stabilizing Afghanistan.

The United States seems to have gone wrong in its perceptions both on Iran and Afghanistan. Comparative analysis would indicate that in both in Iran and Afghanistan, the United States would ultimately have to rely more on Russia than China in resolving the challenges that it faces there.

China is the United States most significant threat in East Asia and acknowledged as such by the American strategic community and it is inconceivable that any policy focus on China by the new United States Administration would change that strategic reality.
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